Project Canterbury

William West Skiles

A Sketch of Missionary Life at Valle Crucis in Western North Carolina 1842-1862

Edited by Susan Fenimore Cooper

New York: James Pott & Co., 1890.

Chapter VII.

THE agitation in the Diocese was now becoming very serious.

At the Convention held at Salisbury, May, '49, Bishop Ives, in his opening Address, reported a visit to Valle Crucis:

"On the 18th Sunday after Trinity, I officiated in the Chapel erected by the members of the establishment, to a large and serious congregation, confirmed five persons, and celebrated the Holy Communion. For the quieting of some minds, disturbed by unfounded rumours, I beg the Diocese to be assured that, at this religious House no doctrine will be taught, or practice allowed, which is not in accordance with the principles, and usages of our Branch of the Holy Catholic Church, contained in the Book of Common Prayer. And furthermore that the property of the establishment has been secured to the Church, for the use of the Mission, on the above specified conditions."

The Committee on the State of the Church, at the same Convention, closed their Report, otherwise satisfactory, with the following passage:

[73] "They deplore the existence of great agitation and alarm, arising from the impression that doctrines have been preached not in accordance with the Liturgy, and Articles of this Church, and that ceremonies, and practices have been introduced, either unauthorized by the customs of this Church, or in plain violation of its rubrics. * * * Another cause of alarm, as the Committee believe, has been found in the supposition that a Society has existed in this Diocese, whose character, rules, and practices are at variance with the spirit, if not with the laws of this Church. The Committee have assurance, on which they entirely rely, that no such Society is, at present, in existence in this Diocese."

The Society alluded to was, of course, the Order of the Holy Cross. The assurance came from the Bishop. At a later day the Bishop declared that, from the date of the Convention at Salisbury, the Order had been dissolved. Its regular existence therefore scarcely covered two years.

The Bishop was again ill. But he sent a short Charge to be read to the Convention, very earnest in denying any doctrines or practices, repugnant to the doctrines, and usages of our Branch of the Church:

"Your Bishop does, by way of Charge, hereby address you, and authorize you, when you return to your parishes to assure [73/74] your people that no efforts shall be wanting on his part, so long as God gives him jurisdiction in North Carolina, to hinder the inculcation of any doctrine, or the introduction of any practice--come from whatever quarter it may--not in strict accordance with the Liturgy of our Church, as illustrated and defined by those standards of interpretation, authorized by the Church itself. In respect to a particular question which has agitated the Diocese of late, the question of auricular confession, I may here express my conviction that the Book of Common Prayer, our standard of Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship, does not authorize any clergyman of this Church to teach, or enforce such confession, as necessary to Salvation, and that the only Confession which it authorizes is the voluntary Confession of the penitent, in accordance with the exhortation in the Office of the Holy Communion."

The Convention was so greatly relieved by this communication from the Bishop that it ordered 1,000 copies of a pamphlet containing the Charge of the Bishop, with the Report of the Committee on the State of the Church, to be distributed throughout the Diocese.

The Mission work at Valle Crucis continued to move quietly, and steadily, onward, in the midst of these difficulties. One or two new stations were added. The number of blacks in that part of the State was not large, but a [74/75] small coloured flock was collected for service, and instructed by catechizing on Sunday evenings by Mr. Prout. And the hearts of the Missionaries were cheered by the marked improvement in the moral, and religious tone of the people as shown in their daily life. This was a frequent subject of remark, among those familiar with the country.

In July Bishop Ives came again to the Valley, remaining there a month, preaching on all the Sundays, in the Chapel, or at the different Mission Stations. Thirteen persons were confirmed in the Chapel. During this visit the Bishop addressed to the Diocese a Pastoral Letter. The effect was not happy. It was considered in a measure, a defiance of the Diocese, and a partial retraction of the Charge written three months earlier. The agitation in the Diocese was renewed.

As a consequence, the difficulties at Valle Crucis also increased. Support in the way of funds ceased almost entirely, and the Mission was thrown exclusively on its own resources. Some of the students had already sought work elsewhere. The Head of the Mission at the [75/76] Valley, the Rev. Mr. French, was hesitating as to the course he should take. The Mission family had become very small, consisting of Mr. French, Mr. Passmore, and Mr. Skiles; three candidates soon to be ordained, Messieurs Bland, Barber, and Murphy, Divinity Students; Mr. Geo. Patterson, Mr. Heber Dobbins, and Mr. H. Thomas, Mr. William Alston, a coloured student, with Mr. Dafter.

In this discouraging state of things, a combination of religious agitation, and pecuniary embarrassment, the year 1850 opened upon the Mission. Throughout these trials Mr. Skiles moved steadily onward in the path of quiet duty; prudent and faithful to every trust; patient, tolerant, and full of the spirit of charity. At this period, during the winter of 1850, he made a visit to his friends in the lower country. Apparently one object of his journey was the hope of rendering quiet service to Valle Crucis, by personal communication with the friends of the Institution. His sterling character was already well known, and sincerely respected. As a member of the recently abolished Order of the Holy Cross, he [76/77] could bear testimony to the exaggeration of the reports injurious to the House, and he could also testify from personal observation to the many privations of the community. We give passages from letters written about that time to the Rev. Mr. French,

"Somerset Place, Jan. 10th, 1850.

"I have been at the house of Mr. Collins since Saturday last. I was staying in Plymouth, and my friend Mr. Fitzgerald came there and hunted me up, and would have me come here; though I was not prepared at the time, I could not resist his persuasions. I shall have to visit the Lake again (Lake Scuppernong), as Mr. Collins is not at home. I have seen him only a few moments at Plymouth; I am anxious to see more of him, and I understand he wishes to see me, and have a long talk with me. * * * I have been suffering from my back very much, and have just put myself under the care of a physician, who is very kind, and advises me to have something done forthwith, as he says my case is one that should not be delayed. I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all my friends, and have met with a hearty welcome here, and have received every attention--more than I could wish. Bro. Shepherd was very glad to see me, and has been very kind to me. I have spent most of my time with him, and with my friend Fred. Fitzgerald. I have assisted Bro. Shepherd several times in the Lake Chapel, and last Sunday I was at Pettigrew Chapel, and aided him in the services. * * * I hope Mr. Dafter will come back satisfied [77/78] and will remain. Please write me immediately. Tell George Patterson not to forget to send me some Osage Orange seed, as many as can be sent in a letter. I forgot to bring them to my friend Mr. Goelet. Please do not forget this. I fear Valle Crucis is in bad favour with Churchmen in this Diocese; there seems a want of confidence in the teaching, even in this part of the Diocese, where they are certainly more friendly than in other portions. I regret exceedingly to find it so--but so it is, and those doubts seem hard to remove. Some things that are small matters in themselves, have given rise to suspicions, and many reports have added strength to them, in the minds of many. And when some of the reports are denied, they answer though these may be false, yet there has been cause for doubt, and they cannot help thinking there has been more than they know of. I have had two opportunities of receiving Communion since I left you. Last Sunday I received it from the Bishop. I am spending my time very pleasantly here with Bro. Shepherd and friend Fred, until dinner. After that time we all ride for exercise. * * * Please write."

Not long after the date of this letter, the Rev. Mr. French left Valle Crucis, and removed from the Diocese. The Rev. Mr. Pass-more then took charge of the Institution by the appointment of the Bishop. The Rev. Mr. French became connected with the arduous work of the City Mission in New York, where he has continued his zealous labours until the [78/79] present date, 1889. Mr. Skiles remained in the low country until spring. On his return to Valle Crucis, he wrote to Mr. French. The letter gives a glimpse of his work, and of his character.

"Valle Crucis, May 21st, 1850.

"Rev. and Dear Sir,

* * * "I regretted very much that I did not see you before you left V. C. Little did I think when we parted on the road, the morning I started for the East, that we should not meet again in V. C. But I hope God will order all things for the best. * * * I had an exceedingly tedious, and fatiguing journey homeward, and a very disagreeable one altogether. I was nearly worn out when I reached home It was three weeks from the time I left Plymouth until I arrived here. Such roads I never travelled in all my life. I stopped several days on the road and met with a good deal of kindness in Kaleigh, and all along the road, from Church people. I reached home in a snow-storm, at 9 o'clock at night, the Wednesday before Easter, and found the number here very small, but I hope contented, except W. Alston (coloured) who I think intends leaving this spring. The Dafters all left soon after I arrived. We have had the most disagreeable spring I have ever known, and the most backward. There has been more cold weather than I have ever known, and rain almost incessantly, though we have gotten all our corn planted, and oats sowed, and manure nearly all out. We have now our beets and turnips to plant; our wheat begins to look very well. Rye is backward. We had [79/80] frost this week that bit our corn that was up. I have had fire in my room every morning. I expect to commence going down the River next Sunday. I shall go down two Sundays in each month, and teach the children, and read service. I shall have to give up my school here to George, most of the time. Mr. Prout goes down the 3rd Sunday in every month, and I go down the 2nd and 4th Sundays. Mr. Prout and family are all well, they were over here Sunday. I was at Boon Tuesday, and saw a great crowd; it was Court week, and I witnessed an amusing scene. There was a man intoxicated, who was very rude, and treated the Court with contempt. For want of a jail to put him in, the Court ordered him taken out and tied to a wagon wheel until he became civil. They took him out, tied him, and left him tied. I have to ask you about a coat the bishop gave me in Raleigh. It was he said one you gave him last fall, and he gave it to me, and as I was not enabled to buy any clothes down the country, it was very acceptable, but I did not like to keep it without asking your consent; if you were not willing I would be glad to know what to do with it, as I shall feel bound to do with it as you direct. I hope we shall meet again in this life. I am sure I should be very glad to see you again. I have plenty of hard work to do, and am very tired. I have but little time to write. William Alston will I think leave here for Raleigh by the early part of the summer; he says he has no associates here, and feels lonely. We all have had to work very hard this spring, and were so tired after our labours were finished that we were glad to get to our rooms, and rest. We shall expect the Bishop in July, probably early in the month. Please write me on receipt of [80/81] this. I shall be very glad to hear from you. Believe me, as ever, your faithful friend and Bro. in Christ. May the Lord be with you, and prosper you in your labours of love for your fellow-men."

From this period the ministerial work of Mr. Skiles increased steadily. The Students of Divinity were ordained, or left the valley for other positions, and their vacant places were not filled. His work on the farm was also much increased. Never an idle man--free from the sin of indolence, most assuredly--his physical strength would now appear to have been often overtaxed. His health was not good.

The Report of the Rev. Mr. Passmore to the Convention of 1850 gives the following facts: At outlying stations; Baptisms 28, Confirmations 11, Communicants 17. The Record for Valle Crucis follows, including the services of the Rev. Mr. French until his departure: Baptisms 50, Confirmations 13, Communicants 25. Mr. Passmore adds:

"The Church in this region is flourishing. It is however planted among the poorest class of people, so that the work must probably for a long time to come be purely Missionary [81/82] work. The people are plain and simple in their habits, and generally do not care to make more than a living. But there has been a great change wrought through the Church in the habits of the people. Indeed, every day almost, we can see some change from worse to better, in some individual, or in some department of life. For this reason your Missionary believes that we have good ground for thanking God, and taking courage, notwithstanding our manifold trials."

This shows clearly a satisfactory state of things as regards the Mission among a poor, and scattered population, formerly strongly prejudiced against the Church. But the work was to be still more severely tried, owing to the unhappy course of Bishop Ives.

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